A Buyer’s Guide to Lathe Options

Lathes are complicated machines, and buying one requires weighing a lot of options. We’ve already talked about buying new Asian, or old American machines (with apologies to the Germans, British, Swiss, and all the other fine 20th century machine tool making-countries). We also talked about bed length and swing, and you ain’t got nothin’ if you ain’t got that swing. Let’s talk about the feature set now. If you’re buying new, you’ll shop on these details. If you’re buying used, knowing the differences will help you pick a good project machine.

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Shutter Bug Goes Extreme with Scratch-Built Film Camera

Should a camera build start with a sand mold and molten aluminum? That’s the route [CroppedCamera] took with this thoroughly impressive camera project.

When we think of cameras these days, chances are we picture the ones that live inside the phones in our pockets. They’re the go-to image capture devices for most of us, but even for the more photographically advanced among us, when a more capable camera is called for, it’s usually an off-the-shelf DSLR from Canon, Nikon, or the like. Where do hand-built cameras fall in today’s photography world? They’re a great way to add a film option to your camera collection.

[CroppedCamera] previously built a completely custom large-format view camera, but for this build he decided that something a bit more portable might do. The body of the camera is scratch-built from aluminum, acting as the lightproof box to hold the roll film and mount the leaf-shutter lens. There’s an impressive amount of metalwork here — sand casting, bending, TIG welding, and machining all came into play, and most of them new skills to [CroppedCamera]. We were especially impressed with the shrink-fit of the lens cone to the body. It’s unconventional looking for sure, but not without its charm, and it’s sure to make a statement dangling around his neck.

It’s tough to find non-digital DIY camera builds around here — best we could do were these laser-cut plywood modular cameras. Then again, you can’t beat this wearable camera for functional style.

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“Attempt” at Wristwatch is a Solid Success

Sometimes silence is the best compliment to a DIY project, and that doesn’t just apply to homemade lockjaw toffee. When a watch is so well-made that it looks like one from a jewelry store, it is easy to keep quiet. [ColinMerkel] took many pictures of his fourth wristwatch attempt but “attempt” is his word because we call this a success. This time around he didn’t forget the crown for adjusting the time so all the pieces were in place.

His second “attempt” at wristwatch making was featured here and it had a classical elegance. Here, the proverbial game has been stepped up. Instead of using stock steel, the body is constructed of 303 stainless steel. The watch dial will definitely draw compliments if its DIY nature is revealed, which is equally mathematical and charming. Pictures of this process were enough to convey the build without words which is always a bonus if you only want a quick look or English isn’t your first choice for language.

Not only is [Colin] an upstanding horologist, he has a reputation with aftermarket door security and a looping guitar pedal.

Buying Machine Tools: Foreign or Domestic, New or Used?

The last time we discussed machine tools, we talked about how to choose the size of the new metalworking lathe that your wallet is itching to pour itself into. The next big decision to make is “new or used?” If you’re in North America, this question has a lot of overlap with the classic question “Import or American?”. The answer boils down to what your needs are, and what you want to get out of this machine.

If you are new to machining, and want to learn the skills, I recommend starting with an Asian import machine. If you’re careful which one you select, you’ll end up with a very reasonably priced lathe that can do precise work right out of the crate. If your interest is in learning how these tools work, and in doing a restoration project, an old American machine is a great choice. Let’s look at these two routes in more detail.

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The King of Machine Tools

The lathe is known as the King of Machine Tools for a reason. There are very few things that you can’t make with one. In fact, people love to utter the old saw that the lathe is the only machine tool that can make itself. While catchy, I think that’s a bit disingenuous. It’s more accurate to say that there are parts in all machine tools that (arguably) only a lathe can make. In that sense, the lathe is the most “fundamental” machine tool. Before you harbor dreams of self-replication, however, know that most of an early lathe would be made by hand scraping the required flat surfaces. So no, a lathe can’t make itself really, but a lathe and a skilled craftsperson with a hand-scraper sure can. In fact, if you’ve read the The Metal Lathe by David J. Gingery, you know that a lathe is instrumental in building itself while you’re still working on it.

We’re taking trip through the machining world with this series of articles. In the previous article we went over the history of machine tools. Let’s cut to the modern chase now and help some interested folks get into the world of hobby machining, shall we? As we saw last time, the first machine tools were lathes, and that’s also where you should start.

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Turn Your Lathe into a Shaper

Ingenuity is the name of the game with manual machine tools. You often have to get creative to use the tools you have to create the part you want. That’s exactly what happened when [John] needed to cut internal splines and keyways using his lathe.

Lathes are usually used to turn metal, but internal keyways and splines are operations often performed with a broach. An older tool called a shaper would be perfect here, but shapers are relatively rare these days — or are they? There are many examples of shaper attachments for lathes. These are human-powered devices that scrape a bit of metal off each pass. The lathe itself is used to keep the workpiece in place and move the tool in a repeatable way.

Rather than create a shaper jig from scratch, [John] decided to use his compound slide as the shaper slide itself. He removed the compound slide lead screw, which allowed the compound to slide freely. He then fabricated a double hinged bar and bolted this to the compound slide. Moving the bar causes the slide to move. Just add a cutting tool, and you’re ready to cut a keyway. Add an indexing plate, and you’re ready to cut a spline. You can see the tool in action after the break.

If you want to learn more about lathes and what goes into them, you can learn how to build one from scratch.

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Mini Lathe Makes Tiny Hydraulic Cylinders for RC Snow Plow

You can get pretty much any part you need online these days, but some specialty parts are a little hard to come by. So if your needs are esoteric, like tiny hydraulic cylinders for RC snow plows, you might just have to roll your own.

To be honest, we never really knew that realistic working hydraulics on such a small scale were a thing, but [tintek33]’s video below opened our eyes to a new world of miniature mechanicals. You’d think a linear actuator would be a fine stand-in for the hydraulic ram on a tiny snow plow for an RC truck, but apparently no detail is too small to address in painstaking detail. And as with many things in life, the lathe is the way to get there. Every part is scratch-built from raw brass, aluminum and steel on a mini lathe, with the exception of a few operations that were sent over to the mill that could have been done with hand tools in a pinch. The video is longish, so if you’re not into machining you can skip to 16:40 or so and pick the action up at final assembly. The finely finished cylinder is impressively powerful when hooked up to [tintek33]’s hydraulic power pack, and looks great on the plow. He’s got some other videos on his site of the RC snow plow in action that are worth a look, too.

Ready to take the plunge with a lathe but don’t know where to start? We’ve covered the basics of adopting a new lathe before.

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